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There Goes the Gayborhood: Boystown Becoming More Straight, Research Shows

 There are fewer gay couples in Boystown than ever before, according to new research on "gayborhoods."
There are fewer gay couples in Boystown than ever before, according to new research on "gayborhoods."
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LAKEVIEW — Goodbye gayborhood. Hello, strollers.

Boystown — which made history as the nation's first officially recognized gay village — is becoming increasingly "straight," according to new research.

Amin Ghaziani, a sociologist with the University of British Columbia, explored shifting demographics in Chicago, New York and San Francisco gay neighborhoods from 1970 to 2010 in his new book "There Goes the Gayborhood."

The professor culled decades' worth of newspaper articles, Census data and public opinion polls from across the U.S. He interviewed gay leaders, business owners, grassroots organizers, and gay and straight citizens from gay neighborhoods across the country — including 125 people in Boystown.

Ghaziani found that fewer same-sex couples live in historically gay neighborhoods than ever before. Possible factors include gentrification, growing LGBT acceptance and changing attitudes within the gay community.

"People no longer feel confined to the singular streets of the gayborhood," Ghaziani said.

"A phrase I heard a lot during my research was 'All of Chicagoland is gay. Or, at least, all of the North Side is gay.' The idea here is that progressive cities can, in an era of acceptance, become the functional equivalent of gayborhoods."

"That's not surprising," said Rick Garcia, a longtime gay activist who's lived in Chicago since 1986. "As there's more and more acceptance of lesbian and gay people, the need for a safe enclave becomes less."

Ghaziani said gay Chicagoans were forming communities in Andersonville, Rogers Park and west suburban Oak Park. There are also large gay communities of color throughout the South and West sides.

"There are concerns among some members of LGBTQ communities of color that Boystown is overwhelmingly white," Ghaziani said. He added that several people interviewed thought they were discriminated against in Boystown.

At the same time, more and more straight people — especially couples with children — are being drawn to Boystown. Ghaziani said parents like local schools, especially Nettelhorst, and want to raise their kids in an area that values diversity.

"That was a striking observation because it was only in the 1990s that gay men were stereotyped as pedophiles," Ghaziani said. "And now a lot of straight families are deliberately selecting gayborhoods because they think they're safe places to raise children."

Ghaziani said straight women told him they felt safer in Boystown than other parts of the city because they felt less likely to be sexually harassed or objectified.

Leighann Adkisson, 24, moved to Boystown with her boyfriend three years ago when a friend's apartment opened up.

"I thought my boyfriend would be a little weird about it, but he's made great friends," Adkisson said, adding that her apartment building is about 50/50 gay and straight.

She said she's seen more families with children in the area, especially on weekends, and feels safe. Once in a while, her boyfriend "gets whistled at, and I'm like 'good, you know what it feels like,'" she said.

Mike Holtzman, 31, came to the area three years ago, and said he hadn't noticed other gay men leaving.

"I'm from Michigan, so finding an abundance of LGBT friends is hard," Holtzman said when asked why he chose Boystown.

Even if more LGBT people do leave the area, "it'd still have its draw," he said. "I don't think the bars are going anywhere. What makes a gay neighborhood? The bars. Chicago is very gay-friendly in general."

But Boystown resident Logan McGarrity, who's moving to Evanston with her fiancee Stephanie, said there's something special about a gay neighborhood — and it could lose some of its character as more LGBT couples leave.

"I think there's something about banding together around something so personal," said McGarrity, 31, adding that she and her fiancee feel safe holding hands or kissing in public.

"People might cheer. I'm not going to get my a-- kicked," she said.

The couple is leaving Boystown because the area has become "more of a sideshow, something to gawk at."

They've noticed more bachelorette parties and drunken trolley rides.

"This type of area, when you're new to the city, is great for being out and being with your people," said McGarrity, who moved to Boystown in 2012. "But it's quickly outgrown."

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